Here's An Incredible Way To Get A Lobster Out Of Its Shell

Dina Spector/Business InsiderShucks Maine Lobster uses high pressure to shuck lobsters without cooking the meat.

Maine has more lobsters than it knows what to do with.

With catches more than double what they were a decade ago — due to more fishermen, fewer predators, warmer water, and good conservation — the industry is struggling with pricing pressure and distribution constraints. Processing is the best way to expand distribution, but it’s an underdeveloped industry, currently dominated by the Canadians.

Shucks Maine Lobster, an innovative processor near Portland is looking to expand operations. Shucks is one of just 16 processors in the state, according to the company’s president John Hathaway. It’s the only place in the United States that uses water pressure rather than cooking to loosen the meat from the shell, allowing workers to extract the meat in one piece.

This processing method allows Shucks to sell packaged lobster in its raw form, producing a fresher meal for buyers around the country. Restaurants and supermarkets can use the product in lieu of live lobsters, which are expensive to ship and store. Individual consumers like the so-called “Lazy Man’s Lobster” because they don’t have to deal with the trauma and mess of boiling and shucking a live lobster.

It’s an impressive product, but the local industry still faces obstacles. Building new processing plants won’t be cheap, and Shucks’ multimillion dollar high pressure processor is particularly expensive. Then there’s the challenge of developing a new market.

“There’s a huge demand for Maine lobster,” Hathaway said. “Outside of New England there are 300 million people that would potentially buy lobster if it were delivered in a convenient way.” The biggest obstacle, he added, “is distribution and opening up those channels from the East Coast to West Coast and in between.”

We toured the Shucks plant for a closer look at this innovative technology.

Shucks Maine Lobster is found in Richmond, Maine, about 45 minutes from Portland.

The processing facility is located inside what used to be a golf shoe factory.

One of just 16 processing facilities in the state, Shucks can process up to 30,000 pounds of soft-shell lobsters each day.

Their busiest time is in the summer, when soft-shell lobsters are most abundant because it's the time of year when lobsters moult their shell.

This machine is called the Big Mother Shucker. It's what makes the entire operation possible.

First, hundreds of pounds of live lobster are loaded into metal basket.

The metal basket is cylindrical shaped with many small holes.

The basket is then lowered down into the machine, measuring two stories tall, and the chamber is filled with fresh water.

Large pumps increase the water pressure to 87,000 pounds per square inch. That's about five times the pressure in the deepest parts of the ocean, or the equivalent of having 250 jumbo jets stacked on top of one person.

It takes just 6 seconds for the lobsters to die.

The pressure is distributed evenly on all sides so that within about 60 seconds, the meat starts to detach from the shell without damaging the lobster.

The process is like putting a grape inside a plastic water bottle, filling it with water, and then squeezing the outside of the bottle, according to Shucks president John Hathaway. The pressure on the grape is equal from all sides so the grape does not get squished or deformed.

The enormous amount of pressure also kills off any bacteria and other pathogens. In the early 2000s, oyster processors in Louisiana were using water pressure to prolong the shelf life of their seafood when they discovered that it also shucked oysters from their shells. Hathaway realised this technique could also be used to loosen lobster meat from the shell. Previously, the only other way to get lobster meat out its shell was by cooking it.

The lobsters come out of the Mother Shucker after about six minutes and are dumped into large troughs.

The lobsters then shoot down a grader, which sorts for size and quality.

The beauty of the Mother Shucker is that the lobster shell remains intact.

And the lobster meat slides out of the shell in one solid piece.

This is much easier and less messy than shucking a boiled fresh lobster.

It's also a fresher alternative to other processed lobster since the meat is not cooked.

Some of the lobster is flash frozen while it is still in the shell and then packaged. Shucks sells the whole lobster this way or just the tails.

Here are some lobster tails that have just been sent through a deep-freeze.

Lobster that is not sold in the shell is shucked by hand before it is packaged.

Workers use a different technique to shuck the lobster legs.

First, the legs are snipped off with electric scissors.

The legs are moved to separate room with a special machine.

The machine has metal blades that strip the shell from the leg meat.

Each leg is placed into the blade by hand.

Within a matter of seconds, you have what's known has 'lobster spaghetti.'

Another specialty item is the 'Naked Lobster.' The meat from the lobster, including two claws, two knuckles, and the tail are packaged all together.

You can also buy just the raw shucked tail meat or the raw shucked claw and knuckle meat.

All of Shucks products are vacuum-sealed before they are shipped around the country.

On its website, Shucks demonstrates how to thaw its frozen lobster.

Hathaway even puts his cell phone number and email address on the back of each box in case customers have questions about the product.

Shucks is currently looking to expand its operations and is trying to lock down a facility in Portland, which would allow the company to double the amount of lobster is processes.

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